In the context of native Japanese speakers (not non-natives), is there a concept that roughly translates as "kanji illiteracy"? If so, what are the Japanese terms for it? Also, what does it mean? Does it mean not being able to distinguish kanji apart, not knowing the readings, or not knowing the meanings? Can it also mean people who are unable to write kanji, being reliant on IMEs and producing lots of 誤変換?

Background: Episode 5 of 古代少女ドグちゃん had Das Kapital being deployed to un-brainwash some exploited workers in a crab-meat factory (presumably a reference to 蟹工船). It worked on the older workers, but the younger workers were not un-brainwashed, and the heroes deployed the まんがで読破 (Manga de Dokuha) version, saying "the pressure-free education kanji-illiterate can understand it," according to a D-Addicts fansub.

Related question: How do I differentiate all these terms for "illiterate"? talks about illiteracy, but doesn't seem to mention kanji in particular.

Edit: The term turned out to be kanji yomenai (漢字読めない). (Thanks nkjt先生!) Edited the title so it's more informative.

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    Native/non-native is about the language ability. Foreign is about the nationality. They are different things. "context of native Japanese speakers (not foreigners)" does not make much sense.
    – user458
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 3:49
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    @sawa: I beg to differ. Although there is merit to your argument, "in the context of native Japanese speakers (not foreigners)" makes perfect sense. I understood it immediately. Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 3:59
  • @AndrewGrimm You are right about the first part. But there isn't anyone who "have great (enough) ability but did not grow up with the language". Non-native fluent people's ability with the language is inferior than that of natives. Either way, my point still holds.
    – user458
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 4:56
  • @jkerian I know the statement sounds strong, but it is empirically supported. Do you have any example that contradicts my statement?
    – user458
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 5:12
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    @AndrewGrimm By "foreigners" which country are you mentioning? Foreigners to Japan? If so, it would mean you are particularly mentioning a set of people who, for example, does not include 森田健作 or カルデロンのりこ (Japanese natives but foreigner to Japan). What significance does that set of people have in discussing the Japanese language?
    – user458
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 5:14

2 Answers 2


In this particular case, could it just have been 漢字読めない? (The other "KY").


nkjit's guess of 漢字読めない (kanji yomenai) was correct.

I don't know exactly what 漢字読めない (kanji yomenai) means, but the term seems to exist, possibly as a slight neologism.

It's mentioned in Japanese Wikipedia's page on KY.

Then Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō has apparently been called a KY for his misreading of kanji. Describing himself as a Manga fan probably contributed to that perception of him.

Aso struggles with his kanji says that he:

  1. Misread “mizou” (meaning “unprecedented”) as “mizoyu” (a nonword).
  2. Described exchanges between China and Japan as “hanzatsu” (“troublesome”) rather than “hinpan” (“frequent”).
  3. Mispronounced “toshu” (“follow”) as “fushu” (“awful smell”).

and Aso's Kanji Blunders says that he

  1. Pronounced "teimei" (sluggish) as "teimai"
  2. Misread "kiban" (basis) as "kihan"

His problems with kanji led to a boom in books about kanji, including Futami Shobo's "Yomesode Yomenai Machigaiyasui Kanji" ("Commonly Misread Kanji that Look Easy to Read, but Cannot Be Read Properly"), according to the Aso's Kanji Blunders blog post.

I guess it shows that the kanji shouldn't be misunderestimated!

  • If anyone's able to add in the kanji involved, that'd be appreciated. I'm ちょっと KY myself.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 11:38
  • I do guesswork most of the time based on Google Translate and googling around, so please check. Probably the kanji are: 未曾有 (mizou), 煩雑 (hanzatsu), 頻繁 (hinpan), 低迷 (teimei), 基盤 (kiban). The romanji in the article is probably wrong for: 踏襲 (toushuu), 腐臭 (fushuu). I can see in the mizou case (probably read wrongly as mizoyuu, since 有 has the reading ユウ), the teimei case (since 迷 sometimes renders as mai as in 迷子), the fushuu case (since there is the verb 踏む fumu).
    – nhahtdh
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 4:48

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